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Monday, December 26, 2011

Tis the Season . . . (For Home Inspections)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks and that’s not just because this time of year is crammed full of shopping, parties, programs, neighbor gifts, and Christmas cards.  It’s been a busy couple of weeks because three years ago this time of year our adoption homestudy with our private agency was approved.  I remember taking a deep breath after completing all of the mounds of paperwork and interviews and thinking “Now we can RELAX and enjoy the holidays!” 

However, three years later since we have not yet been fortunate enough to adopt, means, out of necessity, this is the time of year we must renew our home study- which also includes paying the annual renewal fee (as if December isn’t lacking in busy-ness or expenses)!
So . . .  not only did our adoption caseworker come to our home last week to do an annual health and safety inspection of our home and “check up” on us through an informal interview, but our licensor through foster care came the same week a few days later to do a walk-through inspection of our home so that we can be re-licensed for the coming year.  We usually wait till after the holidays for our foster care licensor to come as our license doesn’t expire till after the new year, but apparently a lot of people are being licensed or re-licensed [which is a good thing] so she’s been swamped with appointments and asked if we could do it a little earlier.
SAFETY is the top priority in these inspections so medications, firearms, cleaning supplies, and any alcohol must be locked up and out of children’s reach (Fortunately we don’t have any firearms or alcohol to worry about).  There must be working smoke detectors on each level of the home and safety gates must be at the top of each stairway in the home as long as there are children under five years of age, (even if, as with Rose’s case, they are not yet crawling).  We must also have a first-aid kit in our home as well as  one in the car.  A fire extinguisher is a must but it can’t be just any fire extinguisher- size and model are specified.  Those are the big requirements- there are a few others addressing the size and space of each child’s bedroom, too.
I understand the necessity for safety guidelines in the home of adoptive and foster parents, and smoke detectors and outlet covers are something we already use in our home- no big deal- but I totally stress out each year when our home inspections roll around because not only do I feel like our home is scrutinized for safety standards but I feel the need to take CLEANLINESS to a whole new level; hence, I want my home to look like a page out of Martha Stewart Living and I am overcome with the  overwhelming urge to thoroughly organize every single sock and underwear drawer in the entire house and alphabetize all of my spices.  Okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but only slight.  Yes, cleanliness is important in inspections, but there are no white glove inspections and the only drawers or cupboards which are opened are those in which medications or cleaning supplies are stored .  
Last week as our caseworker and then our licensor inspected our house and interviewed us I was a little annoyed/discouraged/overwhelmed and even humored at the thought that our family can’t have any children reside in our home without having the right size fire extinguisher!   I was equally humored by being casually asked by two different caseworkers within days of each other- as part of the required interview process- “Any marital problems over the past year?” to which part of me thought. Well, Dr. Phil,  let me tell you all the private details of our family life! 

Such is life as a foster and adoptive family.     

On the Charts and Weekend Visits

At Rose’s four month well-baby check-up last month she weighed over 10 pounds which means she is now officially ON THE CHARTS for weight! Success. We’re looking forward to seeing how much weight she has gained at her 6 month appointment next month.

Meanwhile, Rose's mother has progressed to the point that for one of her weekly visits she is being granted supervised visits outside of the DCFS office on the weekends in a relative's home. So instead of a caseworker supervising the visit, a relative who has passed a background check is the one who supervises the visit.

I was a little surprised about weekend visits being granted so early on in the case because in the past the parents of our former foster children were usually only granted weekend and/or extended visits a month or two before reunification and Rose has only been with us for three months- less than half the total time she’ll be in our care. But the heart of child welfare is what is in the child’s best interest and I’m sure it's beneficial for both child and parent to start spending time together in an actual home-like setting (versus an office) as soon as possible to prepare for reunification. The next step is to start having visits in Rose's mom's apartment [She has an apartment now- which is great progress.]

I have a pretty good relationship with Rose's mother and she’s been easy to work with. We respect the roles that we each play in Rose's life. In other words, I respect the fact that Rose is her child and she is working to get her back and she has learned to trust me enough to know that I'm not trying to "steal" her baby from her. She also frequently expresses gratitude for me which is nice (and rare) for a foster parent to hear. Because of our relationship, I feel comfortable enough that when the caseworker recently asked me if she could give Rose's mom my phone number I said "yes". (My cell phone is untraceable so she still doesn't know my last name or where I live). That way it's much easier for Rose's mom and I to communicate with each other about setting up times for the weekend visits or doctor's appointments, etc. Not to mention, it’s a lot easier for the caseworker as well.

Rose’s parents got to see her for six hours on Christmas Eve. We gave them a framed picture of Rose we got taken last month at a studio. It was so stinkin’cute!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Home for the Holidays (13th Annual)

Each year my heart is touched as I watch this special presentation by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Andy's Clan Adoption Fundraiser

Wanna know a pet peeve of mine about adoption? That it can be so darn expensive!

In fact, my friend and fellow adoptive mother, Sheyann, [author of Andy's Clan] addressed that specific issue in this post. As I read what she wrote on the subject I found that many of her thoughts echoed my own.

Adoption

Jeremy, Sheyann, and hopeful big brother Andy have been hoping to adopt for a couple of years now and are now raising funds for their next adoption through a clever fundraising idea you can read about HERE.  Spread the word!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Foster Parent of Chauffeur?

Moms wear many different hats- chef's hat, maid's hat, coach's hat, and nurse's hat to name a few (not that nurses wear hats anymore- but for the sake of this analogy stick with me).   The job description of a foster parent is to be a substitute parent for a child.  Therefore, foster parents have all the responsibilities and roles (minus the rights)  that a legal parent would have in caring for their children.  As with "regular" parenting, one such responsibility I've found myself spending a lot of time with each week as a foster mom is the role of "chauffeur" as I transport Rose to appointments and visits with her parents.  In other words, my chauffer hat has been getting a lot of use lately.


Over the past month Rose has had twice as many visits as usual because another recent development in her case is that as of last month, her father would like to start having regular visits with her.   As with her mother’s case, these visits will be supervised at the DCFS building and they will be two hours twice a week.  Babies generally get more visitation time with their parents than older foster children since the bonding is especially crucial at such a young age.  However, because of some legal and personal issues her father's visits will have to be separate from her mother’s visits, hence, twice as much travel time to visits.   

In addition, Rose’s mother recently enrolled her in an Early Intervention Program with an occupational therapist about an hour each week so I have been transporting her to those appointments as well.  A couple of years ago when we were caring for a foster baby with some developmental delays it was very convenient to have his occupational therapist come to our home for his appointments once or twice a week.  But in Rose's case, these appointments aren't necessarily for her as she seems to be on track developmentally, rather they are for the benefit of her mother as she learns from the therapist to respond to her baby's cues and be more attuned to her needs.  They also provide a parenting requirement which she needs to complete as part of her Service Plan. 

So, I was feeling a little overwhelmed with the prospect of travelling five different times during the week to transport Rose to two visits with her mom, two visits with her dad, and one weekly occupational therapy appointment with her mom.  I understand that driving is part of my responsibility as a foster parent, but at the same time I was thinking, "Our family has our own life filled with appointments and schedules, too!" and that's more times a week than I spend driving my own child to activities or carpooling to school.  Perhaps I didn't initially complain because I'm too much of a pushover and I'd rather keep the peace than rock the boat or upset anyone.  I've also had  a great relationship with Rose's caseworker so I was afraid of complaining and coming across as being a whiner, but I'm proud of myself because I did call her and expressed my concerns.  She was very understanding once I brought it up. (Foster care has definitely taught me to be more assertive- not just as an advocate for my foster children, but on my own behalf as well.) 

The good news is that Rose's caseworker was very accommodating as I suggested we work out a schedule where we could have visits either back to back or at least on the same day so that I wouldn't have to make numerous trips a week to the neighboring town where the visits are held.  The even better news is that a couple of weeks ago the status with Rose's parents' relationship changed so they were able to combine their visits with each other at the same time, which meant only three total days of transportation a week for me!

However, things change, and as of this week, it looks like Rose's parents may need to start having separate visits again.  For me, this means that I will be transporting Rose to visits and appointments four times a week, which is slightly better than five times a week, but I still feel very much like a chauffeur.  
Sometimes "sharing" a child with two other parents (Rose's parents) and setting up times for visits and drop-offs and pick-ups, etc. makes me feel like I'm in a relationship where I have joint custody of a child.  But as I said before, foster parents have no custodial "rights" to their foster children at all- just all the responsibilities of a guardian.  It can be frustrating at times to be the one with all the responsibility but no rights and at other times things can get a little complicated. 

I can’t imagine how much more complicated the role of chauffeur would be for foster parents who have   two unrelated foster children in their care and have to accommodate different family visitation schedules, different court hearings with different judges, different case reviews with different caseworkers, different Parent Teacher Conferences at different schools, different doctors for check-ups, etc.                

Monday, December 5, 2011

Voices of Foster Children

One of my dearest friends from high school was in foster care. Fortunately, she was able to stay with family members. Unfortunately, she was separated from her younger siblings. This was particularly devastating for her because she was essentially the “mother” to her younger brother and sisters. Although I wasn’t familiar with the term “parentification” back then, it fit my friend to a T! 
  

My friend never hid the fact that she was in foster care from me because it was just a part of who she was. She has always been open about things and as I learned more about her home life I realized how relatively sheltered I was. After all, I’ve never been separated from my siblings, I’ve never had a caseworker from the state assigned to me, I’ve never had a parent deemed by a court of law to be “incapable of parenting” and I’ve certainly never had a parent in prison. Considering everything my friend had been through, she turned out REMARKABLY well. She had some downright terrifying things happen in her past, and although they were a crucial part of my friend’s life, she didn’t let those experiences define her.
Most of what I write on this blog is about my experiences and perspective as an adoptive and foster mother- because that’s what I know. I obviously don’t know what it’s like to be in foster care, but I think it’s beneficial for me (and all of us) to learn from others who have been in that situation. Having said that, here are a couple of links to a blog I recently discovered written by a former foster child:
Imafoster wrote about the stigma attached to being a foster child here, and about learning from the past, without dwelling on it, here.
I was also pleased to come across some success stories of former foster children going on to attend and graduate from college thanks to a charitable organization called Foster Care to Success, which was started by a foster care alumni with the purpose of mentoring foster children and providing scholarships and grants making it possible for them to start (and finish) their higher education. Very praiseworthy.


Like my high school friend, foster children may come from rough backgrounds, but that doesn’t have to define who they are. As the Soothsayer told Po in Kung Fu Panda II (a great adoption-themed movie, BTW):
“Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but that doesn’t make you who you are, it is the rest of your story, who you choose to be . . . So who are you, Panda?"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Guest Posting: FAQ About Foster Care

Today I am guest posting on my friend Amanda's blog, Punkins in Love

Amanda is an adoptive mother and as you will see by her header her two boys are STINKIN' cute!  Both her children have open relationships with their birthmothers and their families so Amanda knows a thing or two about open adoptions.  Unfortunately, Amanda and her husband also know firsthand the heartache of going through a failed prospective placement, a subject which she may write more about  in the future. 

Besides being a mother Amanda is also a nurse and a runner- she has run the Ragnar (more than once) which automatically makes her go up a few extra notches on my "Awesomeness Scale".  I admire anyone who not only trains for but finishes such events.

Head on over to Punkins and Love to see my answers to Ten Frequently Asked Questions about Foster Care

P.S. This guest post totally counts as one of the (at least) six posts I wanted to post before National Adoption Month comes to a close!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rose in Bloom/Change in Plans

Earlier this month as I dropped Rose off to a visit with her mom I was overcome with a lot of different emotions- (mostly grief-related) about the prospect of having to “drop her off” in the near future- FOR GOOD- and not being able to conveniently pick her back up a few hours later.  Although I was all alone in my car I was still somewhat surprised at how emotional I became because I like to think I’m much more calm and collected than I actually am and I pride myself on not showing too much emotion.  As I felt the warm tears starting to form in the corners of my eyes on the ride home I chided myself.
My inner dialogue went something like this:
You knew this placement was only going to be a couple of weeks to a couple of months max till she’s placed with relatives- so why all the fuss?
I know- I know . . . But even so, five weeks is PLENTY of time to get attached to a child when you’re the caregiver 24/7.  I just don’t know if I can handle fostering another baby again- it’s just too emotionally and physically exhausting.   Maybe we should only foster children rather than babies. 
I proceeded to think about our previous toddler and pre-school age foster children and the advantages as well as challenges that such stages of development present.  True, there isn’t as much physical work involved as caring for a baby, but there is plenty of other emotional and social work in terms of helping them regulate and express their emotions appropriately, setting boundaries, and establishing a sense of routine and structure in their daily life. 
Then again, I thought, Maybe we should just call it quits altogether as far as foster care goes.  I don’t think I’m strong enough to say “yes’ to one more placement only to have our hearts broken one more time.  If we knew we were done building our family then it would be different, but it’s such an emotional roller coaster trying to guess what might be in store for us in terms of if we’ll ever be able to adopt one of our foster children in the future.
Q:  Well then, why DON’T you quit?  Nobody’s forcing you to do this, you know.
I know.  But I just feel like I’m “supposed” to.  And there’s so many kids out there who need safe homes, and it’s really not that much of a sacrifice since we only have one child and we always have an extra bedroom.   I reminded myself of all of the other reasons why we’ve continued to foster.
As my soliloquy continued it became much more dramatic and I started feeling sorry for myself and even owned up to the fact I was feeling jealous of Rose’s mother- because she gets to have what I want most- a baby. . .  and I’m just the substitute mommy- not the real mom.  I’m “just” the foster mom.

Speaking of which . . . I recently came across the following picture which deeply resonated with me.  The caption read "A mama is a mama."  

But I’m the one who gets up in the middle of the night to feed her and I’m the one who changes her diapers and launders all of her (and my) spit-up covered clothes, and I’m the one who takes her to the doctor, but what do I get in the end?  Nothing. 
My self-pity began to escalate:
We voluntarily open our hearts and our home to caring for a baby and in the end we don’t even get to see her “bloom” –so to speak.  (I knew there was another reason I’d refer to her as Rose.)  And, of course, the timing for saying goodbye is just GREAT- her colic is slowly improving, she’s only waking up once during the night now, and she’s outgrowing her helpless newborn stage and entering the fun, social stage where she’s smiling at everyone she sees and cooing and starting to laugh.  And NOW we have to say goodbye?!
Perhaps I NEED foster care in my life to help me be less self-centered, more humble, less judgmental, more grateful, and in general, more loving- because it’s not the first time I’ve had such thoughts.  I eventually talked myself out of having such a martyr-like attitude and reminded myself that it’s better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.   
Fast forward to a week ago:  Our family has been preparing to say goodbye to Rose, knowing that any day we would get a call from her caseworker letting us know that her relatives have been approved to  care for her and that we need to get all her things together so that she can be transferred into  their care.  Well, it turns out there’s been a change of plans.  Although both relatives did, in fact, pass their background checks, for various logistical reasons the Division decided it would be in Rose’s best interest to keep her with a fost-adopt family.  We were asked if we would be interested in having Rose in our home on a more permanent basis and we said “yes”.  How could we not?
So now it looks like we’ll have Rose in our care for a little longer- until the Permanency Hearing in Spring- and that will give us a little more time to see her “bloom”.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Beautiful Heartbreak

There’s an inspirational music video which has been circulating around the web recently featuring two women who have both suffered some pretty huge trials in their lives.    One of the women is Stephanie Nielson (commonly known as Nie Nie in the blogosphere) and the other is war survivor and refugee, Mariama Kallon.

Although I have never seen Mariama Kallon speak in person, I have heard from others who have heard her share her story firsthand and/or read her book, Delivered by Hope, just how imspirational and truly amazing her attitude is- the key word here is attitude.  And anyone who is familiar with Nie Nie's story knows how she has always maintained a positive attitude since her accident.


The video I’m speaking of is from Christian artist Hilary Weeks and is called Beautiful Heartbreak.  Incidentally, I happen to have a very talented sister-in-law who contributed her mastery of the violin to the String Section of this particular (as well as many other) soundtracks. 
Regarding the title of this song:  if you’re like me your first instinct is to think that the words “beautiful” and “heartbreak” most certainly don’t belong together; It’s an oxymoron.  There’s certainly nothing beautiful about getting your heart broken and having your hopes dashed, right?   However, as I proceeded to watch this video my heart was touched and I understood the message behind the phrase “beautiful heartbreak”.  The words to the chorus in particular seemed to speak to me:
Every fear, every doubt, All the pain I went through
Was the price that I paid to see this view
And now that I’m here I would never trade
The grace that I feel and the faith that I find
Through the bittersweet tears and the sleepless nights
I used to pray that He’d take it all away,
But instead it became
A Beautiful Heartbreak.
I also thought it was very powerful to see Nie Nie and Kallon hold up framed hand-written signs for the camera describing what trials they had gone through and then- as a direct result of consciously choosing to maintain a positive attitude despite their trials- they held up additional signs at the end of the video with words describing some of the beautiful and good things they could focus on, in spite of, and in Mariama’s case, as a direct result of their trials. 
Just as touching to me was the montage at the close of the video of many other women (and a sweet little boy) who would look directly into the camera without speaking and hold up hand-written signs of some of the battles and heartaches which they were facing or had faced.  A powerful technique, which, incidentally, has also been used in this website which I was referred to after a woman posted this picture on her blog:

What a great reminder that you just never know what other people are struggling with, despite how “together” they appear.  As the words to a favorite hymn state “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see”.   You just never know.  Or, as this quote states:

[I’ve always liked that quote, but when I heard it was attributable to Plato I suddenly liked it even more – as if his thoughts deserve more credence than the rest of ours do!]
So- what does the concept of a beautiful heartbreak have to do with my experiences as an adoptive and foster mother?  Quite a bit, actually.  If I were to make a list of the five hardest things I have ever had to face in my life infertility would definitely rank at the top if the list- perhaps second or third.  And although infertility is not a prerequisite for doing foster care or adopting as I mentioned in this post, the fact of the matter is that if my life had been different than the way it has turned out- namely, with a house full of children I had given birth to all conveniently planned and spaced two to three years apart- I would probably be too busy to ever consider doing foster care or adopting.  Perhaps not- but I’m just guessing, based on what I know about my own capabilities and limits.
Heartbreak is such an appropriate word to describe infertility.  Infertility is lonely.  It’s alienating and discouraging.   In a word, it’s . . .  heartbreaking.   When you find yourself in the position of not being able to have what you’ve always wanted most (children) let alone what you’ve always expected would come naturally you start to question not only your worth but your worthiness. 
You feel like an outsider when compared with most other women (that’s my first problem right there- comparing my situation to someone else’s, Why do we do this?)  WOMEN- STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER WOMEN because usually such comparisons focus on someone else’s strengths or blessings compared to our weaknesses or seeming “lack” of blessings!

Yes, infertility can make you feel inadequate- lacking- and even broken inside.  
The good news about my personal “beautiful heartbreak” with infertility is that my desire to be a parent far outweighs my desire to experience a pregnancy.  I am grateful for adoption- beyond words.    Without adoption and the selflessness of my daughter’s birthmother I would never have the chance to be a mother.

Furthermore, the desire to “mother” in me is so great that I’ve been given the opportunity, through foster care, to help parent six children, aside from my daughter, over the past five years.  Of course it’s hard when we have to say goodbye to our foster children, but it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.  [At least that’s what I have to remind myself when I need an attitude check concerning foster care because I feel like I’m just too emotionally exhausted to say “yes” to one more placement.]
The other night as I was putting our foster baby in her bassinette after a middle of the night feeding I thought “This bassinette sure has gotten a lot of use over the past few years.”  I did the math (no small feat considering it was probably two or three in the morning and my mind was not in prime condition) and calculated that it had been used by four babies in four years.  That’s pretty much on par with the Duggar’s rate- Not Bad!  Then I sarcastically thought to myself, “It’s because I’m so fertile!” because I know, realistically, that just the opposite is true- it’s because of my infertility that I’ve been able to care for four babies in four years.
So, if I had to make a video of my own personal heartbreak with infertility, modeled after Hilary Weeks’ Beautiful Heartbreak- [technically the credit goes to director Jed Wells] I would start out somberly looking into the camera and holding up a sign that reads:
“Infertile”
I’m not quite sure how to fill up the middle, although I can think of some pretty dramatic images of negative pregnancy tests, intrusive doctor examinations, being surrounded by a room full of laughing women at a baby shower while trying to hide my pain behind my smile, etc.  but I DO have an idea for the ending scene:  I would be kneeling over the bassinette and I would gingerly kiss a baby’s forehead and lay him or her down to sleep and then hold up a sign with a contented look on my face and it would read:
“4 babies in 4 years”.
Granted, they haven’t all been my babies and I’ve only been able to “keep” one, but as I reflect upon some of the blessings that have come from something as heartbreaking as infertility, nurturing those four precious babies has most definitely been one of them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

But I Wanted to Grow in YOUR Tummy!

I’ve been meaning to write about something that happened several months ago.  A few days after a bridal shower I was talking to my four year old daughter and she was wondering about the funny name of the event we had attended.
But why is it called “shower”? she asked me- both amused and confused about the name.
I explained that it wasn’t like the shower you take to get clean but that there are a lot of presents at the party.  I proceeded to tell her that a shower is just another name for a party to celebrate for when people get married or when someone is going to have a baby.   Then I remembered back to a year ago when she accompanied me to a baby shower.
“Remember last year when we went to the party with all of the presents for your friend’s mommy’s baby before her little sister was born?  That was a shower.”
“ Like when I was in your tummy and you had a shower?!”   she said with enthusiasm.  It wasn’t so much  a question as it was a statement.
I paused.  This had never happened before and I was caught off guard.  My daughter had forgotten that she was adopted despite the fact that whenever she hears the word “adopted” she proudly announces “I’m adopted!” and despite the fact that the first couple of pages in her baby book are full of pictures of her birthmother smiling and holding her and embracing us.  Maybe she was confused because I also have pictures of her baby showers and when I get to those pages I always say “Everyone was so excited when you were born that we had a big party to celebrate!”
“Honey” I gently reminded her  Remember? . . .  You didn’t grow in mommy’s tummy- you grew in [her birthmother’s name]’s tummy.”
“Oh” she said, with a disappointed sigh.  “But I wanted to grow in your tummy!”
I felt an emptiness the moment she said those words and I don’t know if it was my own issues with infertility that were making me feel that way or if it was hearing the disappointment in her own little voice and trying to sense how she was feeling at the time that made me feel that way.  But I was also very touched by her longing to have been so intimately and literally connected to me. 
I went on to explain that even though she didn’t grow in my tummy she would always be my little girl and that seemed to appease her for the moment and she went on talking about something else.
I’m sure this will be just the first of many conversations to come up about where she came from and that not all future conversations and inquiries will go so smoothly (having a more open adoption would surely help to lessen some of the mystery surrounding further questions) but for now we’re just playing things by ear and trying to be as open and age-appropriate as possible.

National Adoption Month Blogging Challenge

So I’m feeling like a bit of a slacker because as of today National Adoption Month is officially halfway through and although I’ve accepted Mrs. R’s blogging challenge I’ve only blogged once this month!  I do have somewhat of an excuse as we were out of town for a week and I am still in the process of uploading a hundred pictures (no exaggeration) to our private family blog and getting caught up documenting what’s going on in our personal lives over there.

However, I have a goal to post at least six more times on this blog before the month is over- that’s an average of three times a week- so I don’t feel too bad.  I have a couple posts “mostly written”, a few more barely started, and there are always a few floating around in my head at one time.  If you’re a blogger like me the challenge is actually finding time to sit down and finish.  So . . . stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

National Adoption Month 2011

November is National Adoption Month.


Speaking of Which  . . . AdoptUSKids.org has a new, updated website- Check it out!

I recently registered with the site and found it to be very user friendly.  Not only that, but a caseworker contacted me back with information I needed about a waiting child's case within 24 hours after inquiring.  Very impressive!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Team Meeting, Two-Month Check-Up, and Multiple Chances

Rose has been with us for three and a half weeks.  The actual amount of time she stays in our care is entirely dependent upon when her relatives complete their background screenings, licensing requirements, and home inspections required of them to provide kinship care for her.  Speaking of which, it turns out that there are actually two different sets of relatives now who have come forward wanting to be considered as a kinship placement.

When I learned this I asked the caseworker as well as a kinship specialist assigned to this case What happens when more than one relative comes forward who wants the foster child in their home?  In other words, how do they decide where the child gets placed?   First and foremost, they explained, it depends on if their background checks clear and if their home passes inspection.  (Well- duh- that’s a given!)  Aside from that it’s ultimately up to the Division, taking into account which environment they feel would be best for the child.  However, it was also reassuring to know that Rose’s mother will have a say in the matter of where her child goes, based on her own personal preferences.
I attended a Child and Family Team Meeting last week after Rose’s visit with her mom [She currently has two 2-hour supervised visits per week with her mom] and I must say, as a foster parent, it was the most comprehensive CTFM I’ve ever attended.  Although I won't share what transpired in the meeting I can tell you what impressed me about it (other than the fact that the caseworker actually called one in the first place, and furthermore, let me know in advance when it would be so I could attend):

1)  It was PACKED- there were at least ten people in attendance including me, Rose (who was bundled up and peacefully sleeping in her mom’s arms during the entire 90 minutes), Rose’s mother, the caseworker, the caseworker’s tech who was copiously taking notes on her laptop for reference as the Service Plan is drafted, Rose’s nurse, a Kinship Specialist, one of the relatives applying for kinship care, a family advocate who has been working with Rose’s mother to help her get all of the resources she needs, Rose’s Guardian Ad Liteum (her attendance was the one that impressed me the most)  an intern just observing the meeting, and a representative from Drug Court giving Rose’s mother some options for her treatment plan/requirements to get her child back. 
2)  I feel like Rose's mother left the meeting feeling empowered, due in large part to the concern everyone expressed for her and her situation.   

3)   There was a good "balance" in the meeting of justice and mercy.  Staff members were “just” in the fact that they knew Rose’s mother would have to be held accountable for her choices and put forth a lot of effort and work to have her child returned to her custody, but they were also “merciful” in showing compassion and expressing encouragement to her that, as difficult as it will be, with the right support and resources she can succeed in doing all she needs to get her child back.  
Rose’s mother is very motivated to succeed and my heart goes out to her- in large part because of her humble attitude.  I think back to one of our other foster children’s parents who was in such blatant denial about his choices that he placed blame for the fact that his child was in state custody on anyone and everyone except for himself.  It didn’t help that his parents (who couldn’t pass their background checks and were bitter that their grandchild was not able to be in their home either) totally enabled him as well. This particular parent made token efforts to do what he had to do just so he could get DCFS “off his back” in his words.  It wasn’t surprising to me that his daughter (Molly) came back into custody a year after reunification. 
I contrast his attitude with Rose’s mother’s way of thinking:  She knows she’s made mistakes but she’s willing to be accountable for them.  And as for the services that the State provides for her (Yes, it’s called the Division of Child AND FAMILY SERVICES for a reason- they’re not just Nazis who take children away from their families for no reason at all)-  she is extremely grateful. 
Parents who have children removed are given not just one but multiple chances* and sources of support and resources to assist them in getting their children back again and in dealing with the issues that caused their children to be removed in the first place.  When you think of it in those terms DCFS is truly a “social service” agency versus a fear-mongering witch-hunting enforcement agency.  Although, I’ll admit on more than one occasion I’ve half-joked about neighbors calling DCFS/CPS on me whenever my daughter lets out blood-curdling screams as I brush out snarls from her hair.

Back to the Team Meeting: After I left the meeting and thought about some of the things that were required of Rose’s mother to get her baby back it was a reminder to me to be grateful for the “resources” I have to care for my children which others, myself included, often take for granted- namely- a home, private transportation (I rode the bus during much of my "poor" college years which has made me greatly appreciate having my own car to use whenever I need) and a husband who has a job to provide for us financially and who is willing to do his share of child-rearing when I need someone else to take a turn getting up in the night with a colicky baby or entertaining a preschooler when I can’t bear to read one more book or do the same puzzle for the tenth time in a row!
Parenting can be hard enough when you have a spouse to help out, so I can only imagine how much harder it would be as a single parent to have to take on both roles of providing financially for your family AND doing all of the homemaking/child-rearing duties as well.  This is the situation Rose’s mother is in. But in addition to all of that, she has a ton of meetings/appointments to attend as part of her treatment plan in order to get Rose back in her custody.  Her obligations are doable when she has a foster family to use as a resource (technically we’re called a “Resource Family”, but most people still use the term “foster family”), but as her caseworker wisely pointed out, What happens in the future when Rose is returned to her care and she starts getting burnt out?  If the only employment that fits into her schedule are swing shifts or graveyard shifts, who will be able to watch the baby overnight?  It reminds me of the predicament Christian’s father found himself in as a young, single parent without family support.  When faced with the scenario of becoming burnt out, Rose’s mother expressed hope that she could rely on the same relatives who are in the process of getting approved for kinship placement.  One slight problem is that one of those relatives lives in a different county.  It takes a village to raise a child, truly.
In other news, Rose had her 2 month well baby check-up and is all caught up on her vaccinations.  Although she’s gained a pound since I took her to the doctor two weeks ago, at 8 pounds she is still technically not even on the charts as she is in the 0 percentile for both weight and height.  Zero Percentile!  Fortunately, we have a pretty good track record of fattening babies up in our home.  If she's still with us for Halloween we'll have to get a newborn-size costume for her.
*Regarding Multiple Chances:  Anyone who is under the impression or opinion that bio parents aren't given enough chances or resources to get their kids back (a pet peeve of mine, as usually these are the same types of people who think that all foster parents are selfish and evil and just want to "steal" other people's kids). . .  is sorely mistaken.  I was reminded of this during the beginning of this placement when I was given some background about Rose's parents.  It's been explained to me that reunification efforts aren’t dependent on the parent’s history of having previous children removed (at least in our state), but rather are based on the child’s history of removal.  In other words, since this is the first time that Rose has come into custody- regardless of how many siblings she has who have been removed from their homes and/or adopted through the foster care system- her mother will be given a chance to get her back.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Matching Mondays: Native American Sibling Groups

I have never done a Matching Mondays post, but today I feel compelled to do so.

The past couple of weeks as I’ve searched through profiles of Waiting Children online, there were a few profiles in particular which kept sticking out to me.  These profiles had something very specific in common: they featured sibling groups of children of Native American descent who are part of a federally recognized tribe.  I must have been born the wrong ancestry because as a prospective adoptive parent who has absolutely no known trace of Native American ancestry in my “boring” pasty white European lineage, but who is drawn to Native American culture and history, I would not be able to make an inquiry about these children due to regulations set forth in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

HOWEVER, someone else out there might be interested in adopting these children who also meets the following criteria:
  1. Has a completed home study or foster care license
  2. Is interested in adopting a sibling group, AND
  3. You (or your spouse) can provide proof of being part of a federally recognized Indian tribe
If you or someone you know meets these requirements, then PLEASE take a look at these beautiful children- perhaps they are meant to be a part of your family!








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Friday, October 7, 2011

Mongolian Spots

The day after Rose was placed with us she had a really runny diaper. I consequently gave her a bath for the very first time and as I was drying her off I noticed a dark spot on her lower back- right above her bum- which I hadn't noticed when I changed her diapers. At first I thought it might be something left over from her dirty diaper that somehow didn't get rinsed off in her bath. Upon closer inspection I realized it was a nasty-looking bruise. "Oh dear", I thought. "This little baby has already been through enough- not this, too."

I became even more disturbed as I discovered another deep purple looking bruise on her genitals- located in a place which I wouldn't have been able to notice with just a routine diaper change.  I immediately felt sick . . . and angry. I began imagining the worst and thought "How can anyone do something like that to such a small baby?"  

NOTE: Okay, I don't normally go into details about injuries or allegations of the foster children in my care as that is confidential information, but bear with me- I'm sharing this story with the sole purpose of possibly helping any other foster parent or prospective foster parents out there who are ever faced with a similar situation, because, as you'll discover if you keep reading (or if you haven't already figured out by the title of this post) if I had known at the time when I discovered the "bruises" on Rose what I know now I would have been spared a lot of unnecessary worrying.

I showed Rose's caseworker the bruises after she came to our home a couple of hours later for the required 48 hours-after-placement visit. She took a picture of them with her camera to document them.

"Hmmm" she said, sounding puzzled, "I don't think the doctor said anything about those. You'll definitely have to ask about that when you take her to get checked" [She was referring to the fact that a doctor's appointment is typically required within the first couple of days after a child is placed into care]

"You'll also want the doctor to order such-and-such tests" she continued, speaking of some other non-related tests which needed to be done based on the baby's and the baby's parent's medical backgrounds.

I then proceeded to tell the caseworker that I had not yet been given a Medicaid card for Rose (nor had I yet been contacted by the nurse assigned to her case) so I couldn't take her in to see a doctor even if I wanted to right then.

On more than one occasion I've needed to take a foster child to a required check-up or to see a doctor, but their Medicaid Card (a new one is issued monthly) has not yet come in the mail; this is obviously problematic.  It’s just one of the frustrating paperwork aspects of being a foster parent: Since the children in your care are in State custody they qualify for and are covered by Medicaid (unless they happen to be covered by their parent's own private insurance plan, which is, in my experiences, a rarity). So anytime I need to take a foster child to see a doctor or any other medical professional I can't unless I have two forms with me:

1) The Placement Verification Letter from DCFS stating that I am the foster parent and as their  guardian I am responsible for the child yet I should not personally be billed for any treatments, and of course


2) Proof of Insurance (usually Medicaid).


If I don't have those two forms then my foster child can't be seen by a doctor.

Oh, make that three forms if you count the Health Visit Report which must be filled out by the doctor at each visit and comes in triplicate copies- one which the doctor's office keeps, one which I mail in to the nurse assigned to the child’s case, and one which I keep with the child's records.

Back to Rose and her bruises: The other stressful thing about discovering a scratch or bruise or reporting an injury of a foster child is that foster parents run the risk of being accused of child abuse. In some cases, foster parents are viewed suspiciously [thanks to the ones out there who have actually abused the children in their care!] and thought of as guilty until proven innocent [through investigation]. So my first concern about discovering Rose's bruises was for her and as I started jumping to conclusions I found myself hating her parents, whom I had never met, or whomever it was that did this to her.

But then . . . . then I started worrying when I realized that the tables could easily turn- that authorities who don't personally know me or my husband- but only know that we've had a child in our care for less than 24 hours and now we're reporting what could potentially be some serious- and definitely not just "accidental" injuries- could have the same suspicions towards me and my family that I had towards Rose’s family. 

The next morning Rose's caseworker called me and asked/instructed me to take Rose to the Children's Justice Center for further photos and documentation of the bruises. When I met the doctor in charge of the examination she mentioned that after she looked at the initial photos which the caseworker took the day before and, according to her professional experience and opinion, there was a possibility that the bruises might be Mongolian Spots. I had never heard of the term "Mongolian Spots" before but quickly surmised what it meant.  Although she is not of oriental descent, Rose is, after all, a bi-racial child: half-Caucasian and half-Hispanic.

More pictures were taken for documentation & investigation and after a thorough examination the doctor reassured me, once again, that she wouldn't be surprised if they turned out to be Mongolian Spots, but the only way to be certain would be for me to keep an eye on the bruises and watch for any changes in color.

When I got home that afternoon and got Rose fed, burped and down for a nap I went to the computer and Googled "Mongolian Spots". This was one of the images that was brought up:


I also found an excerpt from this article particularly pertinent:

Because Mongolian spots can be easily mistaken for bruises, particularly by well-meaning white people who have no experience with them, they have triggered accusations of child abuse against some adoptive parents. For this reason, it is important to be sure that both your child's pediatrician and the caseworker who completes your post-adoption work record information on the presence of Mongolian spots into their records. You can assist in the documentation of this information by taking snapshots of the spots and providing prints to be included in your child's files. Since you cannot take for granted that everyone will know what Mongolian spots are, it is good advice to have their presence recorded from the start.”

Any other foster or adoptive families out there ever had any experiences with Mongolian spots?

Colic

It's been a long time since we've had a baby in our home (2 years). It's been an even longer time since we've had a baby girl in our home (4 years). Needless to say, over the past week we've been savoring the experience that only a baby girl can bring into a home. Of course, I would be lying if I said that every moment with Rose has been pure bliss.  A new baby in the house means, among other demands, middle of the night feedings and it's a tiring adjustment to have to make all of the sudden.


In addition, Rose has some problems with colic and acid reflux so I've had to experiment to see which burping position is most comfortable for her and exactly how much and how often she needs to be fed, and which formula (since she just changed formulas) and which medicines (fortunately she only has two) work best for her. It sure would be convenient if foster babies came with detailed notes from their parents of when they eat, how much they eat, when they sleep, how much they sleep, how best to soothe them, etc. but the sad fact is, especially if a baby or child is coming from a situation of neglect, there may not be any "norm" or routine at all when it comes to when and if they get fed or if they've been cared for at all. It's pretty much a guessing game of trial and error for the foster parent. Having said that, here's what I've discovered regarding Rose's care:

-She has to eat much more often than every four hours- more like every two or three since when she does eat she ends up spitting half of it back up.

-She prefers a to be held in a football hold- face down, with pressure on her stomach-after she's eaten or when she's particularly fussy- rather than the more traditional over-the shoulder, upright position.

And here's a couple of things I re-learned based on my past experiences in caring for colicky babies, particularly Christian*, who was a perpetual "Niagara Falls":

-Sometimes it's more comfortable for the baby who spits up frequently (or who has a stuffed up nose) to be placed back to sleep in their car seat- in an elevated, upright position- rather than back down in their crib.

I remembered the car seat technique when, during middle of the night feedings, I would finally get Rose to sleep or calmed down and as soon as I would place her face up in her bassinette she would become uncomfortable and fussy and prone to wake up and/or spit up even more.  If you don’t have a wedge pillow for reflux, a car seat or baby swing works pretty well, too.

-Acid reflux in babies equates with going through multiple changes of outfits, bibs, burp cloths, and blankets throughout the day . . . and consequently, having much more laundry.

I invested in some Dreft laundry detergent.  What can I say?  I love the smell!

Rose is so tiny that although she is already two months old, she looks and weighs (7 pounds) the same size as a newborn. It's amazing how many outfits a little one with acid reflux can go through! She came with only a few changes of clothes and I realized, because of her excess spitting up, that they would definitely not be enough for her. Since Rose will only be with us for a short time and we won't be given an Initial Placement Clothing Allowance I dragged a bin out of storage full of our daughter's old baby clothes. Oh the memories that come with looking through your children's old baby's clothes! Even some of our daughter's old 0-3 month clothes were far too big for Rose, so I resorted to using some of our daughter's old preemie clothes.

Some medications for colic just cause diarrhea.  Thank you, oral Zantac! Very counterproductive- it may keep their food from coming out one end- but certainly not the other.

I also bought some Gripe Water which I’ve never used before, but I’m willing to give it a try.  What I like about it is that since it’s not over the counter but a natural mix of ginger and fennel, it can be given as often as 6 times in 24 hours.  What I don’t like about it is that it needs to be refrigerated, so you can’t take it with you if you’re out and about.  In that case, colic tablets sound like a good choice- another thing I haven’t personally tried, but have heard mentioned.

*I attended a training a couple of months ago and when I sat near a familiar looking foster mom I recognized her as the woman who did respite care for me one day a couple years ago when I was sick. After talking to me at a break and making the connection she said-  “Oh. . . you're the one with the foster baby who barfed a lot.”  Not quite sure that’s how I want to be remembered in life, but Enough Said.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Did You Know Steve Jobs Was Adopted?

I thought I had a fairly good list in my mind of "Influential Adoptees" when I saw the following video for the first time on You Tube:



But I must have forgotten that Steve Jobs was on the list (and in the clip) until recently when I came across this blog, created by a former foster child, and I saw a post dedicated to famous people who were foster children or adopted.  Interesting.  It looks like Cher and Willie Nelson were fortunate to have family members who were able to step in and take care of them when their parents were unable to do so.

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs.

Thank You for the contributions you've made to the world of technology.

Incidentally, while I was Googling a picture of Jobs for this post I came across Top 10 Things You Didn't Know about Apple's Co-Founder.  More interesting stuff, of course, but I cringed at the innapropriate adoption language they used in Fact #2:  "Steve Jobs' biological mother gave him up for adoption one week after giving birth." 

A GENTLE REMINDER:  Birth mothers don't "give up" their children, they place them!